The World Inside of Us
Given how common particularly heinous crimes and circumstances have become in the news media today, it might not be uncommon for one to hear about a particularly gruesome crime being committed and think to themselves “now I could never do something like that”. Indeed, while the average person normally would not think of themselves as a murderer or an arsonist, at a basic level, the capacity to do terrible things exists inside of each and every one of us, regardless of if we choose to act upon it or not. Inside each and every person there exists a capacity to do both good and bad things, where their character as a person is determined by how those choose to act upon these capacities for good and evil. This idea of one's internal capacities to do both good and evil is explored within a number of different media sources, however one can find a particularly insightful and important examination of the potential contained inside each and every individual within Louise Erdrich's novel The Round House. The novel itself follows a thirteen year old Native American boy by the name of Joe as he searches with his friends and his father for a man who viciously attacked and raped his mother. In the course of attempting to find an answer for such a question, Joe has an encounter with a priest by the name of Father Travis. Although Joe initially suspects that Father Travis might have something to do with the case, the clues he finds lead him elsewhere; although with that being said, Father Travis does appear to provide Joe with assistance of some sort. Indeed, in sharing his wisdom regarding the “good, bad, evil, perfection, death” in every person, Father Travis comes to define not only Joe as a character, but indeed, the overall moral of the story as a whole, which suggests that every person has a capacity for good and evil that they must come to master in order to grow as a person.
While there are many important takeaways that one could draw from The Round House based in the manner that they interpret the story, one particularly important moral message can be found in a statement that Father Travis makes to Joe, where this particular message comes to encapsulate not just the character of Joe, but the moral of the story as a whole. Shortly after learning of his mother's attack, Joe begins to suspect that a priest that has recently arrived in the community was responsible for the job. With that being said, after spying on this priest, a man by the name of Father Travis, Joe and his friends come to find that Father Travis could not have possibly committed the crime. This is not the end of Father Travis' involvement in the story however, as much later Joe once again has an encounter with Father Travis where the priest shares an important bit of information with Joe. As the two talks, Father Travis warns Joe about a capacity that exists inside each and every person, describing how “in order to purify yourself, you have to understand yourself. Everything out in the world is also in you. Good, bad, evil, perfection, death, everything. So we study our souls” (Erdrich). While such a statement might initially seem like the ramblings of a religious man with little to do with the story, upon closer observation this quote tells one much about Joe, and the moral of the story as a whole. The following paragraphs will demonstrate that Joe himself is not a wholly “good” person, nor is he a wholly “evil” or “bad” person; rather, he has the capacity to do both good and evil within him, where becoming a successful and fulfilled individual lies in understanding these capacities as they exist in an individual. Such a statement could be applied to nearly every individual in the story. Readers can look at characters like Sonja, who seems to want what is best for Joe but also runs off with his money as an example of this in other characters in the story; however with that being said, such a statement is particularly relevant as it applies to the novel's main hero and protagonist in the form of the character of Joe.
As is demonstrated by Joe's decision to help his mother in the first place despite the difficulties entailed, and his reluctance to have his friends assist him out of fear that they might be implicated in a crime, the character of Joe has within him a capacity to do good and righteous things at times. The first glimpse into Joe's character comes early in the story, following his realization that his mother has been victimized. While it is not shown to the reader until later in the story, as the son of a tribal judge Joe is likely aware of the difficulties entailed with finding a sense of justice on the reservation. Despite this, Joe resolves to help his mother and try to locate her attacker. While Joe's mother herself is likely aware of her attacker's identity, she does not share this with Joe or Bazil, as she might feel ashamed or even scare that she might be targeted for retribution. Knowing this, it falls to Joe and his father to attempt to resolve the situation, and by resolving to help his mother even when it might place him and his family in further danger, Joe demonstrates a capacity to do good things. Further evidence of the potential for moral righteousness within the character of Joe can be found in the manner in which he approaches the assistance of his friends. Early on in the investigation, Joe receives a great deal of assistance from his friend Cappy, and to a lesser degree, his friends Zack and Angus. In finding out that it was Linden Lark who committed the crime, Joe then resolves to kill Linden, however he is hampered by his apparent inability to aim a weapon. Cappy, being a rather good shot, offers to help Joe take down Linden, but Joe is initially hesitant to accept this help. Although Cappy eventually comes to fire the bullet that kills Linde, Joe goes to great lengths to prevent Cappy from helping him kill Linden, on the grounds that he does not want his friends to be implicated in the crime. This shows that Joe has the capacity to be a caring and morally “good” individual; but this alone does not make Joe a wholly good person. Indeed, a large part of the message of the story is that people are not wholly good or bad entirely, but rather, they have bits and pieces of good and bad inside of them that they must come to terms with in order to become better people, or as Father Travis describes, to “purify” one's self.
While Joe's decision to help his mother and his reluctance to accept the assistance of his friends show that he has the capacity to do good, Joe's decision to drink the beer from the crime scene and to force Sonja to dance for him suggest that he is a flawed individual who is not entirely good and perfect. Early in the course of their investigation, Joe and his friends find themselves at a longhouse that comes to serve as a particularly important location within the confines of the story. There they find a number of potential clues to the crime including a pack of Hamm's beer; but rather than leaving the beer alone and resolving to keep it as evidence, Joe and his friends simply decide to get drunk off the beer. Now, this is not an “evil” thing to do perhaps, but it is certainly not good. Indeed, in deciding to drink the beer with his friends, readers come to find that the character of Joe is a flawed individual, and one who is not always capable of making the right decision even when he knows what the right decision might be. With that being said, one potentially “evil” act that Joe does can be found in the form of an interaction he has with Sonja, his Uncle Whitey's partner. In searching for clues, Joe finds a doll that he realized is filled with thousands of dollars, where he then gives the money to Sonja, who he admires. Later, while staying with his grandfather Mooshum, Joe comes to find that Sonja plans on giving a lap dance to his grandfather, which Sonja does not want Joe to be a part of. Stemming from his secret admiration towards Sonja, Joe blackmails Sonja, telling her that he will tell Uncle Whitey about the money unless she relents and lets Joe watch. While she does in fact let Joe stay and watch, she is quite upset at Joe afterwards, accusing him of being not unlike the other men who have taken advantage of her during her life. Together, these events show that, despite Joe's capacity for good, he is not a perfect individual. Like many other people, Joe falls victim to temptation and ends up making the wrong decisions, showing an important moral of the story. Within every supposedly “good” person there exists at the very least a capacity for one to do bad things, where the same is also true of supposedly “bad” people who are capable of doing good things. No person is wholly good or bad, but rather, as the story shows, humans must come to understand and control these capacities for both good and evil if they are to move on with living a better life.
In closing, in sharing his wisdom regarding the “good, bad, evil, perfection, death” in every person, Father Travis comes to define not only Joe as a character, but indeed, the overall moral of the story as a whole, which suggests that every person has a capacity for good and evil that they must come to master in order to grow as a person. This is an important truth in life that one must come to understand. Humans are complex creatures that might not reflect preconceived nations about being wholly “good” or “bad”, and so in showing the capacities to do good and bad through the character of Joe, the author here reveals an important truth about life as a human being.
Erdrich, Louise. “The Round House”. Harper Publishing; New York, New York. October 2nd, 2012. Print.